SHERIDAN — You’re a first-grader and you’re standing at the bus stop with a backpack full of completed homework eagerly awaiting another day of school. But today is no ordinary day of blackboards, study and desks; today is field trip day.
To you, this possibly means one of two things: a welcome break from learning or yet another boring tour. But what if your teachers and community members came together to create a one-of-a-kind field trip tailored to your learning level, skills and interests so you could have fun while they slip in a secret lesson, or two?
That is exactly what happened last week as the three first-grade classes from Tongue River Elementary unloaded 43 students at the Ucross Foundation for a day of living art exercises.
First-grade teacher Molly Martoglio and Ucross Foundation Director of Development and Community Relations Vivian Banks grew up together in Sheridan, and to them, the culture of art is second nature.
After thinking outside the usual field trip box and realizing the many resources she had throughout the community, Martoglio approached Banks about bringing the kids to Ucross.
The day was originally scheduled to include a tour and some workshops, but after artists in residency at the foundation learned of the upcoming visitors and donated their time, the event grew into a daylong series of interactive events that reached the students on many levels.
The morning began with a creative movement exercise led by a professional composer and a professional choreographer from New York who spent 45 minutes with the students practicing rhythm and movement, counting music, identifying patterns and putting actions to spoken word.
“One teacher said she has a little girl who struggles in the classroom, but she saw her be a leader in the creative movement exercise by suggesting ideas and thinking of new ways to conduct choreography,” Banks said. “It gave them a chance to be brave and try new things.”
Banks said she and the teachers saw similar results from the creative writing workshop and brainstorming exercise that followed.
“When they came together to brainstorm before working on their own writing pieces, the kids came forward with ideas we never would have expected,” she said. “Normally they are in the same classroom every day, all year round, so seeing them in an outside setting and successfully applying what they have been learning all year was important to the teachers.”
Martoglio agreed that though the students didn’t realizing they were tapping into all of their lessons from throughout the year, seeing them be able to recall and apply those learnings in a real world setting was exciting.
“Creatively applying your knowledge is the highest level of learning,” Martoglio said. “Recalling things is a start, but applying what they’ve learned on this field trip showed a higher level of understanding for what we’ve worked on throughout the year, even in terms of math and science. Scientists have proven you use the same portion of your brain to solve a math problem that you do to play a piano.”
One teacher who has been teaching for more than a decade told Banks she was inspired to try something new after the writing exercise.
Led by widely published essayist Chelsea Biondolillo, when a student finished writing early she pulled them aside and asked them what they thought and how they felt about what they wrote.
Banks said this kept them engaged in the activity and helped them care about what their peers had created.
“All of them were exercising their creativity in new ways than they normally get to, so it encouraged them to share in new ways and help each other too,” Banks said. “Another teacher said it was a chance to realize and illustrate how important art is in this community while showing our youth that there really are ways to work together and help each other out.”
After the writing exercise, the students took their pieces to local artist Chessney Sevier to make an illustration of their composition.
In a lesson that melded art and problem solving, Sevier broke down their desired pictures into basic shapes and form to help them achieve drawings like giraffes by looking at them in a different way.
Other activities of the day included tours of old buildings on the property that had the students learning about history and diversity through art and walks outside that used nature to spark the kids’ creativity and start conversations.
“Just seeing them explore new things and seeing their excitement for everything they looked at was the best part,” Martoglio said. “I love seeing how brave they are to try new things in front of their peers. They joined in with confidence, and that is something we lose as adults.”
She added that the entire day of exercises reminded her of a quote from Pablo Picasso that says, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
Banks said for her, the day was a reminder that art is part of everything and whether a child on a field trip or an adult at work, creative thinking can elevate all works.
“As an established vibrant arts organization in the community, the main function of Ucross Foundation is serving as an artists in residency program, so we do not normally get to provide this type of occurrence to this high of a degree, so it was special for us as well,” Banks said. “We would certainly be open to doing these types of things in the future, but the artists aren’t required to share their time and space so it will vary for each situation.”
She added that the gallery has two to four unique exhibitions annually that are open year-round for no charge, and opportunities for tours are always available.